INTRODUCTION Bank of America, one of the top financial institutions in the United States of America and Wikileaks, described by many as the probably the biggest whistleblower in recent history are in for a colossal battle. Bank of America is on the defensive end as to whether one of its executives lost a hard drive containing information that if and when released could cause the bank to crumble to the ground. On the other hand, Wikileaks allegedly has this hard drive in its possession and has already issued a statement that it will release the information earlier this year.
This battle has the world on the edge of its seat waiting on who will be triumphant but for purposes of this paper, this is a battle of ethics. A brief background is hereby provided. The statement of Julian Assange, Director of Wikileaks, in an interview last year that he is in possession of a bank executive’s hard drive containing information that could lead to the downfall of one of the top banks in America triggered a wide spread suspicion within the financial circles that Bank of America was the target of this intended release by Wikileaks.
This came about when Assange mentioned in a 2009 interview that the hard drive in question is that of a Bank of America executive. Due to its shares falling after the Assange interview, Bank of America moved to conduct an internal investigation. No justifiable proof of the existence of this hard drive was found during this inquiry. Bank of America has thereafter issued a pronouncement to stop processing any transactions or payments intended for Wikileaks due to the organization’s possible illegal activities.
This writing will focus mainly on whether or not Bank of America should refuse to process payments and do business with Wikileaks. The ethical issues involved will also be discussed as well as Bank of America’s exercise of a legal right. Finally, on a minor note, and in the interest of fair debate, the question of whether or not Wikileaks should release the contents of the hard drive, assuming it has it its possession will also be answered. The principles of Utilitarianism and Deontology will be the primary tools to be employed to argue and discuss the points previously stated. DISCUSSION
This paper’s stand as to whether or not Bank of America should refuse to process payments and do business with Wikileaks is a resounding NO. John Stuart Mill said, “the creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure. ” The principle of utilitarianism based on this statement seeks that which will cause happiness or pleasure.
Applying this principle to the subject at hand, did this act of Bank of America cause any happiness? To who? To what end? Let’s assume for a moment that Wikileaks is in possession of the hard drive in question, will this stop Wikileaks from publishing the information contained in the hard drive if it so decides? Certainly not. Wikileaks’ donation page on its official website enumerates several methods of making donations or payments to Wikileaks without going through Bank of America such as bank transfers, bit coin and donations via postal mail.
At best, the bank may have caused more of an inconvenience to individuals and entities making donations or payments to Wikileaks but other than that there is no major damage done to its operations. This action from Bank of America resulted in minimal benefit to the corporation and its customers if none at all. Wikileaks will still have control of the hard drive in question, if it does exists, and for this same reason it certainly did not lessen the fears of its customers and its executives.
Furthermore, the widely accepted utilitarian concept by one of the most prominent early utilitarians, Jeremy Bentham, “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” is totally absent in this case. The executives of the bank who decided such action might feel some sort of accomplishment or happiness about themselves for, maybe, thinking that this will deter Wikileaks of its supposed expose’, totally failed to take into consideration the welfare of “the greatest number,” their customers. What they did may have caused more pain than pleasure to their customers because it seemed more of an act of desperation.
It is reasonable to believe that the only means a customer of the bank who is aware of the recent events and of the risks involved will feel a sense of relief and eventually happiness if Wikileaks retracts its statement. If the results of the internal investigation conducted by its personnel that there is no concrete proof that Mr. Assange has the hard drive is indeed true, no action on their part was required other than maybe issuing a statement elaborating on the how they came to that conclusion and an assurance to its customers of the stringent measures the bank is taking to protect sensitive information.
Thereafter, it should have conducted business as usual. Deontology suggests that actions are based on principles, laws, rights and duties. In addition, J. P. Moreland said in his discussion of Utilitarianism vs. Deontology that one of the three important features of this reasoning is duty should be done for duty’s sake. This principle affords a person or an entity to do or not do something by virtue of a right, principle or duty afforded by laws or even customs and traditions.
The drawback to this principle though is that it suggests that people or entities tend not to weigh the consequences of a certain action or non-action because the laws or their rights say they can or cannot do a certain deed. Such is the case in the subject at hand. An editorial in the New York Times said that, the Federal Reserve allows banks to choose whom they do business with as a form of reasonable risk management and that the government requires them to keep an eye out for some shady businesses.
In December of 2010, Bank of America joined Master Card and PayPal in halting the processing of payments to Wikileaks citing the possibility of the organization’s activities might be illegal. ” Indeed there have been cases when banks have refused to do business with an individual or an entity. Most commonly, this happens when the bank determines that a person or an entity does not have credit worthiness. In cases where banks conclude that a person or entity is engaged in any illegal trade, this is cause for the bank to decline such person or entity service.
Bank of America refused to do business with Wikileaks by virtue of the right afforded them by the Federal Reserve. Granting they have the right to do this, was this the right course of action? Absolutely not. Wikileaks, although unpopular because of the nature of its business of exposing secret or sensitive information, it has not been found guilty of any illegal act. It certainly seems that not enough reasonable thought of what the consequences will be was put into this because there could possibly be no amount of good benefit that can resulted from it.
A reasonable person or group of person making a decision normally evaluates what good can come out of an act but if there is none, ordinarily that person or group of persons will not proceed with that act. What Bank of America did is a perfect example of Deontological reasoning. The absence of any regard to any consequences is apparent. It refused business with Wikileaks because it had the right to do so as allowed by the Federal Reserve and under the belief that it was it part of its duty to cut ties with an organization that is maybe engaged in illegal activities.
Wikileaks’ previous release of secret and sensitive materials particularly the war in the Middle East, the Prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and the US Diplomatic Cables and the hard drive containing information on corruption within a bank widely believed to be Bank of America has generated a mixture of criticism and praise from around the world. According to its official website, “WikiLeaks is a not-for-profit media organization. Our goal is to bring important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists (our electronic drop box).
One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth… The broader principles on which our work is based are the defense of freedom of speech and media publishing, the improvement of our common historical record and the support of the rights of all people to create new history. We derive these principles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In particular, Article 19 inspires the work of our journalists and other volunteers.
It states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. ” Based on the above, Wikileaks activities can be viewed as Deontological in nature. Its deeds are derived from one of the most common of human rights, freedom of expression and speech through media. Should Wikileaks release the contents of the hard drive, assuming it is in their possession, based on its right to publish?
On this basis alone, no because there is an utter disregard of the consequences. It should not release it just because it is their duty to do so. With this duty comes the responsibility of considering what could be outcome of such publication by bearing in mind what kind of information they are releasing. If the hard drive has evidence of corruption then by all means release it in the interest of truth and justice. However, if the hard drive contains just plain data of the customers’ account, e. g. ccount numbers and social security information then it would be unwise to do such act as would make the customers vulnerable to identity theft. CONCLUSION A financial institution like Bank of America has, above its legal rights, the duty to provide services to its customers with utmost integrity and security. It must afford its customers the most supreme means of protection. Its act of refusing to do business with Wikileaks produced nothing that would serve its customers or the even corporation favorably due to the ability of Wikileaks to still receive donations and payments via other means.
If anything its refusal gives the impression that the bank is hiding something and that this is nothing but a plain act of retaliation under the guise of reasonable risk management. The basis Bank of America of cutting ties with a media organization due to an unfounded threat, as concluded by its own investigation, sets a bad precedent. When banks starts to decline services to the media due to fear of bad publicity, the entire media industry will collapse.
Bank of America should s continue do business with Wikileaks and still protect itself and its customers at the same time by implementing stricter measures on transactions intended for Wikileaks as required. In this manner, the bank can demonstrate to the customers stability, transparency and confidence in the face of crisis. Exercising a right or performing a duty is not simply an act of doing merely because one is able to. With it comes the responsibility of applying due diligence in determining what is beneficial to the greater majority. ——————————————- [ 1 ]. UTILITARIANISM by John Stuart Mill (1863) Chapter 2 [ 2 ]. http://wikileaks. org/Donate. html [ 3 ]. Teaching Business Ethics for Effective Learning, Ronald R. Sims, pg. 302, May 2002 [ 4 ]. The Euthanasia Debate: Understanding the Issues (Part One in a Two-Part Series on Euthanasia), Christian Research Institute, J. P. Moreland [ 5 ]. New York Times (Late Edition), Dec. 26, 2010, pg. WK. 13. [ 6 ]. New York Times, (Late Edition), New York, NY, Jan 3, 2011, pg. B1 [ 7 ]. http://wikileaks. org/About. html